Mumbai: Until the potholes became the unannounced navigational tool on how you drive on the roads of India's financial capital, monsoon was a bliss for a parched Mumbai taking care of its water woes. So severe has the issue become that the potholes soon turned out to be a number game among the political parties, civic body and citizens depending on their appearance, disappearance and reappearance.
The irony is although the monsoon is now at its ebb, the potholes still remain despite a bold claim by a senior official of The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) that only 36 of them exists in 24 wards. A little math on the number would show that only one or one and a half potholes in each of the 24 wards now are left to be filled up.
Potholes on Mumbai roads took such a political magnitude that even the Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had to step in. A couple of weeks back he directed BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta to get them repaired and report back. Even if the Shiv Sena and the BJP are ruling the BMC together for the last 20 years, the potholed roads managed to even crack the trust they have in each other. Ahead of the BMC polls, which are scheduled in February next year, the BJP fearing a political backlash because of the potholed roads squarely blamed its partner Shiv Sena for the mess. Both the parties are however likely to each other and no tie-up has happened so far. Notwithstanding the political fallout, both the parties have jointly spent a whopping Rs 15,000 crore from the exchequer in the last 20 years for concretising roads and treating potholes.
The Shiv Sena-controlled standing committee, which clears the majority of the road tenders worth crores, is still to find a permanent solution to the pothole menace. The BMC boasts of a massive Rs 32,000 crore annual budget, the largest in the country for a civic body. Despite the dizzying figure in its yearly budget, the truth is out of the total road length 1,940 km only 50 percent are concrete.
According to a BMC report on pothole status released on 29 September, out of 4,599 potholes, 4,563 of them were already attended to while only 36 of them remain to be addressed. When additional municipal commissioner IS Kundan read out the report in the standing committee meeting, parties reacted angrily with some even calling it ludicrous.
Samajwadi Party leader Rais Shaikh told Firstpost that it was absolutely shameless on the part of the senior official. "How can she read out such a false report in the meeting? Most of the stretches on any road are filled up with potholes. One can see a minimum of 36 potholes even in one road," Shaikh said.
Shiv Sena corporator Surendra Bagalkar was also shocked by the 36 potholes statistics.
"BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta instructed each of the additional municipal commissioners to go on the field and inspect the condition of the roads in their respective areas — City, Western and Eastern suburb. Following this instruction if any additional commissioner comes out from his or her car and walk for five minutes below the BMC headquarters, he or she can see more than 36 potholes," Bagalkar said.
Opposition leader Pravin Chheda also expressed ire on the astounding statistics on the status of potholes on Mumbai roads.
"Even after opposition parties including the Congress, NCP and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena staged walkouts and agitated on the potholes no results came out. The situation of the roads did not improve and now the administration is saying there are only 36 potholes. It is a joke of the day," Chheda told Firstpost.
Corporators allege that the contractors are using substandard material to fill up the potholes and as soon as it rains it gets washed away.
"We know the potholes are increasing and the engineers are trying their best to fill them up. But the definition of potholes is not the same among all engineers," a senior BMC official told Firstpost on the condition of anonymity.
Talking to Firstpost, chief engineer (road), Sanjay Darade told that the potholes counting by every ward engineer. "They send us a report of every ward and we compiled of 24 wards. It is true that compiling the report till 29th September only 36 potholes are remaining from ward wise report. But we once again asked them to recheck and send the report within a week," he said.
RTI activist Anil Galgali also expressed unhappiness with the manner the potholes issue is being tackled by the authorities.
"The Chief Minister interfered late in this issue. Both BMC and MMRDA are responsible for the potholes in Mumbai," said Galgali.